Lately, I have been considering how lucky I am to have great colleagues and friends who (unsolicited) choose to endorse me on my LinkedIn profile. Or maybe people just feel sorry for me because I have so fewer endorsements than others. If you are on LinkedIn, or even Facebook, you know of which I speak. Someone likes you, what you do or what you have said and chooses to tell the social media community all about it by providing you an endorsement, or a "like" for your work. This all seems great, right? A real love fest right here on my professional social media profile. How can that be bad? Who knows? Maybe it will drive more business my way too? What could be wrong with that?
Well, maybe nothing but maybe something. As with all things legal, it depends. Now, for us lawyers, there is always the ethical question of whether our endorsing someone, be it a friend or colleague, amounts to a referral. Likewise, there is the question of whether listing a skill or allowing someone to endorse a skill of yours rises to the level of a legal specialty. I will save this issue for another day and hopefully a CLE for ethics credit. For now, I am thinking of my clients and hundreds of companies like them that are embracing social media as a way to engage clients and generate business. Every employee with a LinkedIn profile is, in effect, yet another marketing contact for any company that wants to encourage, or even require, a LinkedIn profile.
But, as with all things social media, who is the one speaking? Let's say you own a paper company and one of your employees endorses a friend who works at your competitor, or maybe endorses a colleague who works at an e-book company, whose motto is "Paper is dead." What to do? In her endorsement, does your employee represent your company? Is her endorsement a company endorsement? Unlike LinkedIn recommendations which are free text and can (and should) be written to include a disclaimer of company ownership, endorsements are nothing more than a picture with maybe a name and company title. I have heard one company proposed to ban LinkedIn endorsements all together for fear of liability attaching, loss of goodwill, or some other negative outcomes from an employee endorsement. Is this really a good idea? The truth of the matter is endorsements are a quick and easy way to let someone know you understand their value and also maintain the all important network connection with a colleague or a client. Do you really want to cut that off? To be sure, the answer rests in your specific situation(s) and your company's culture. As with all things, you have to balance the risk with the reward.
This being said, cutting endorsements off all together is probably a bit severe, not to mention the potential pitfalls that come with regulating your employees speech outside of work and just plain dampening morale. Rather, a company can manage any such risk as they do with all elements of social media, use of personal devices at work, and appropriate use of company resources while at work. Draft a policy clearing explaining to your employees what is and what is not appropriate and train them on the policy.
In truth, your company should already have a social media policy. Addressing endorsements would require but a minor revision. When we advise our clients on social media, one key element of that talk is to always expect change and revisions to address emerging technologies and the behavior (good and bad) they may engender. Any such policy should always include a clear statement on how to properly disclaim company ownership of any post, blog, recommendation or tweet. And as with any policy, companies should audit for compliance and manage deviations from policy.
Lastly, when it comes to anything related to the flow of information and the workplace the only thing that is consistent is change. Rather than looking at developments such as endorsements as risks for liability, look at them as yet another opportunity to both evolve with the marketplace and keep your pulse on the culture of your company. An effective information management policy need not be overly burdensome and unreasonable, even when it comes to social media. It should fit your company's business and risk profile, and should seamlessly fit into its culture. That is something we can all endorse.